(Migration): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

This session aims to shed light on the presence of a so-called floating population in cities throughout history. The focus is on all kinds of mobile groups who stayed in cities for only a short time. Particular attention goes to interactions between such transient residents and the urban fabric as they arrived, moved and left again, and came in contact with city dwellers and authorities.

Throughout history cities have been characterized by intense migration. While in older historiography urban migration was often considered a one-directional move, characteristic for the 19th-century transition to ‘modernity’, research in the past decades has emphasized more complex mobile trajectories, and observed many continuities between ‘premodern’ and ‘modern’ patterns of urban migration. Many of the migrants moving to cities in the past centuries, stayed there only temporarily, moving back and forth or passing through – whether intentionally or unintentionally. This so-called floating or transit population contained many different groups, from pilgrims and tourists over transatlantic migrants and sailors to international merchants, tramping artisans, fairground workers, seasonal labourers or mobile prostitutes. All of them were influenced by and themselves influenced the urban fabric as they arrived, moved through the city, and came into contact with urban infrastructure, residents and authorities.

This session focuses on this so-called floating population of transient residents and their interactions with the urban fabric. We invite authors to reflect on one or more of the following dimensions of these interactions:

  1. Urban regulation: how were transient groups registered and controlled by urban authorities? To what extent was their presence welcomed, hindered and/or channelled by these regulative measures? 
  2. Mobile trajectories: how did cities function in the broader mobile trajectories of these groups? How did this function relate to the positions of cities in networks of transport and communication?
  3. Transit infrastructure: how did their patterns of arrival, residence and departure interact with urban infrastructures of arrival and transit, such as lodging houses, hotels, quaysides, postal services and train stations?

We are interested in contributions that shed light on the ways city dwellers and authorities interacted with various kinds of mobile group, and how these interactions stimulated or hindered the trajectories of transient residents, and contributed to changes in the urban fabric. We welcome papers that adopt a comparative and/or longitudinal perspective by comparing different kinds of mobile groups, different cities and/or different time periods, dealing not only with cities in Europe but around the globe.

  • Spokesperson: Anne Winter, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Co-organizer(s): Hilde Greefs, University of Antwerp
  • Keywords: Migration | Mobility | Arrival infrastructure
  • Time period: All periods
  • Topic(s): Social
  • Study area: More than one continent